Taking It to Extremes – Part 5 of 5 – Rights of the Individual versus Rights of the Group


Introduction: (Skip if you have read Part 1 and go to Part 5 below)

A number of years ago, I wrote an article about the famous “Golden Mean” of Greek philosophy.  The mean was basically a rule that said the best way of living is to balance extremes.  Another way of looking at what this rule implies is that evil or bad things happen when we over do something.  We need to take all things in moderation.  Thus, drugs, smoking, guns, watching TV etc., are not evil or bad in themselves but when we take them to extremes, they became dangerous and counterproductive.

Life is an ongoing struggle to find our proper balance.  However, it may never be a question of equal balance because the proper balance can never be static.  There are many dimensions or polarities in life where it is not really a matter of moderation or balance but more a matter of dynamically imposing a temporary order between two extremes.  The concept of Hegelian Dialectics comes to my mind as an aide in thinking about this process.

Dialectical thinking can be described as: “The ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most economical and reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information and postures.”  This is a much more complex process than simply balancing extremes.  The more I thought about it the more I decided to add a corollary to the Greek Rule.  Since I think time has easily proved the value of the Golden Mean, a corollary by definition is a proposition that follows from and is appended to one already proved.  My corollary is as follows:

John’s Corollary:

Anytime, one concept in a set of opposing concepts is allowed to dominate the other concept, extreme dysfunction will result.

I want to discuss this more by using five pairs of concepts that I think are critical to our world today.  I want to show you how the distortion created by proponents of each concept is dangerous to life as we know it.  I do not use the word dangerous loosely or frivolously or for effect.  The battle between these ideas is destroying life as we know it on this planet.   The proponents of each side of these polarities seek to destroy the proponents on the other side.

Rather than looking at things from a systems perspective and trying to dynamically adjust the system, opponents are driven to allow one idea to dominate to the exclusion of the other idea.  Witness the name calling between conservatives and liberals today.  Each side demonizes the other side and assumes God is on their side and Satan is on the other side. Liberals are evil to conservatives and conservatives are evil to liberals.

Here are the five pairs of concepts we will look at in the next few weeks.  This week we will look at number three on my list.  We have already discussed the “efficiency versus effectiveness” dimension in part one of this blog series and the “growth versus development” dimension in part two.

  1. Efficiency versus Effectiveness
  2. Growth versus Development
  3. Society versus the Economy
  4. Conservative versus Liberal
  5. Rights of the Individual versus Rights of the Group

Part 5.  Rights of the Individual versus Rights of the Group


Gerard Hendrik Hofstede was a Dutch social psychologist who pioneered research into scales that characterize different cultural attributes.  He eventually ended up with six dimensions.  Using his six dimensions of cultural characteristics, you can profile countries to help better understand what drives their politics and diplomatic relations.  (See Hofstede Dimensions) The six dimensions that became integral to his research included one measuring individuality versus Collectivism.  Collectivism is simply another word for group self-interest versus individual self-interest.  Hofstede studied many countries using various survey techniques and placed each country depending on their orientation somewhere along his scale. 

In terms of Individuality versus Collectivism, the United States ranks as one of the highest in individuality. 


“Individualism holds that a person taking part in society attempts to learn and discover what his or her own interests are on a personal basis, without a presumed following of the interests of a societal structure.” Wikipedia

Contrasting the United States with China, we find China (and many other Asian countries) on the other end of the dimension, i.e., China is high in Collectivism or Group orientation and low in Individuality.


“Collectivism is a value that is characterized by emphasis on cohesiveness among individuals and prioritization of the group over the self. Individuals or groups that subscribe to a collectivist worldview tend to find common values and goals as particularly salient and demonstrate greater orientation toward in-group than toward out-group.”Wikipedia

john-wayneThe significance of these orientations cannot be underestimated.  For instance, we have seen considerable controversy during the Covid Pandemic concerning masks, social distancing, and the closing of public and private venues such as businesses, restaurants, and religious organizations.  Many countries have witnessed protests and even riots challenging restrictions in these areas.  Basically, I suspect that research will show that countries higher in Individuality have resisted constraints more than countries that are higher in Collectivism or Group Orientation. 

In the United States, this orientation towards Individuality has been taken to the extreme as key leaders have acted like morons and spurned the advice of top scientists and medical people.  The results have been disastrous.  The United States has the dubious distinction of having the worst record of handling the Corona Pandemic in terms of numbers of cases and deaths.  This is a prime example of what I am calling Johns Corollary: “Anytime, one concept in a set of opposing concepts is allowed to dominate the other concept, extreme dysfunction will result.”

Demonstrators Protests At Texas State Capitol Against Governor's Stay At Home Order

AUSTIN, TX – APRIL 18: A protester holds up a sign protesting wearing a mask at the Texas State Capital building on April 18, 2020 in Austin, Texas. The protest was organized by Infowars host Owen Shroyer who is joining other protesters across the country in taking to the streets to call for the country to be opened up despite the risk of the COVID-19. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

The dysfunction in the case of the Pandemic has been thousands of deaths that did not have to happen. 

Many people in the USA are still protesting their individual rights and will blatantly enter stores and buildings that are marked “Mask Required.”  YouTube is full of videos of these “individualists” loudly proclaiming that it is “My right not to wear a mask.” 

Collectivism or Group Rights can also be taken to an extreme.  When the rights of a group such as a religion or political organization takes precedence over the rights of the individual, we can have instances of fanaticism and cultism.  Numerous examples come to my mind.  The KKK, Mafia, Anti-Semite Groups, Neo-Nazis groups are all instances of organizations that put the rights of the group over the rights of the individual.  Some of these fanatic groups tell would-be members that the only way out of the group is death.  There is no room for individuality in these groups. You either do it their way or you suffer dire consequences. 

51A3WUKdHbLThe Japanese ethic during WWII was one of extreme fanaticism towards the Group Orientation.  Few nations had anything even close to the Kamikaze or Banzai attacks that the Japanese army used against their opponents.  In these attacks, the individual was expected to die for the good of their country.  What differentiated these attacks from other attacks was the wanton disregard for the lives of the soldiers.  It was a foregone conclusion that the individual soldier was going to die.  Again, we see extreme dysfunction when one element of a dimension is pursued to the detriment of any rational balance.

As I write this blog, my state of Arizona has now taken first place in terms of the increase of deaths and new cases of the Corona virus.  Many of the states that eschewed masks, shutdowns, and social distancing requirements followed the examples set by their Republican leaders who in turn followed the example of the man running this country.  The United States is in the throes of a disaster made not only by nature but also by the extremism of its belief in the rights of the individual over the rights of the group.   

individualism and collectivism

The problems and conflicts between individualism and society have been going on since well before the present crisis.  For a good article describing some of the earlier medical confrontations, I have attached an excerpt that I hope will entice you to read the entire article.   Failure to learn from the past is a recipe for disaster in the future.  

“Across the spectrum of threats to the public health—from infectious diseases to chronic disorders—are inherent tensions between the good of the collective and the individual. To acknowledge this tension is not to foreordain the answer to the question ‘How far should the state go?’; rather, it is to insist that we are fully cognizant of difficult trade-offs when we make policy determinations.”  — The continuing tensions between individual rights and public health. Talking Point on public health versus civil liberties by Ronald Bayer, EMBO Rep.  2007 December, 8(12), 1099-1103

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